‘Heaven Can Wait’ Review: No Time like the Present

Posted in The Screening Room by - February 26, 2016

There’s an old writing adage to start a story in the middle of the action. The idea is to jump right to the exciting good stuff, then build out your character and world around that. It kick starts your narrative and gets an audience invested quickly, then lends itself to a nice ebb and flow as you take time out later to tell the slower bits of exposition. It’s good, in theory, but if you don’t have somewhere else to go, the whole experience will flounder quickly.

Case in point: 1978’s Heaven Can Wait; a “comedy” written, directed, and starring Warren Beatty as Joe Pendleton, a rising football star. The film opens on Joe training for the Super Bowl when he is preemptively pulled from his body by a new guardian angel (Buck Henry). But his mortal body is cremated, forcing Joe to temporarily inhabit another body, that of tycoon Leo Farnsworth, recently murdered at the hands of his wife and secretary (Dyan Cannon and Charles Grodin, respectively).

From there, you can probably play out the rest of the movie in your head: the “comedy” comes from Joe trying to parade around as an industrial mogul, the would-be murderers trying to cope with the fact that their target is up and walking, and, of course, Joe still having regular interactions with the angels, whom no one else can see, of course. It’s not that the movie isn’t funny, it’s just that it’s not funny enough. The whole film seems to be riding on this schtick of painful interactions and awkward laughs, but that does not a movie make, let alone a Best Picture nominee.

I can call the film “heartfelt” or “earnest,” because it does seem like everyone’s having a good time and doing their best in the roles, but there’s really not a lot to work with here. Joe isn’t out to learn something; there’s a romantic subplot that takes over, but it’s honestly pretty strange, and it doesn’t even have the balls to pull the trigger on some pseudo-spiritual discussion about the nature of life and the world after. It’s a jumble of nice little ideas, but no real payoff.

Honestly, I feel bad throwing this movie under the bus. There were a number of moments I really did enjoy, and I think Beatty and company gave some great performances. But, whether it’s just coming off of two masterfully solid stories and one that at least took some risks, or just the movie on its own, Heaven Can Wait really doesn’t hold up for me. It’s not a complete waste of your time, should you choose to watch it, but I can’t recommend you go out and dedicate part of your time on this earth for this one. Go outside and have a real, physical experience, it’ll do you better than anything in this 100-minutes of this movie can offer.

Final Verdict: Skip It

This post was written by
He is a Nebraska native and UNL Honors alum with an ever-relevant degree in English. When he isn’t working his day job or writing for Kulture Shocked, Ben spends his time as an independent game designer, seeking to publish his first board game. You can also find him modeling for art classes around Lincoln or online as Dlark17 on most major gaming platforms.
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